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Star City: Star City, #1

Star City: Star City, #1

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Star City: Star City, #1

459 pages
3 hours
Dec 4, 2017


An alien race, the Ba'ren, makes contact with Earth....

To jumpstart diplomacy with humans, the Ba'ren offer their advanced medical technology, prompting the United States government to create a joint research project, and to call for the best of the best.

Eighteen-year-old Emma Smith is ready to capitalize on this historic opportunity. She beats thousands of applicants for the position of student ambassador. Emma knows helping the Ba'ren cure osteosarcoma will kick-start her biomedical engineering career, not to mention give her a front-row seat to learn more about the mysterious aliens.

Sepporinen, a young Ba'ren asteroid miner, cares little about meeting humans. He seeks only riches and glory in prospecting the solar system's asteroids, but the Ba'ren government inexplicably sends him to Earth to assist with the research project, and to work with a young Earth girl.

Emma and Sepporinen draw closer as they work together, and discover far more is at stake than what their respective governments have let on. As political struggles intensify between feuding human and Ba'ren factions, anti-alien sentiment on Earth reaches a lethal pitch. The unlikely pair, determined not to be pawns in this complicated game of life and death, must risk everything to help maintain the fragile peace between their two species.

"It's hard to believe Peng was able to pack such a big story into such a little book (maybe not little, but certainly not the 1000-page tome it could have been!). Personally, I enjoyed the efficiency of his writing and how fast-paced the story was. It was a quick, addictive read that kept me glued to the pages. ...though it has a conclusion of sorts while leaving the door open for its two sequels. I, for one, can't wait to get my hands on them!" ~ Mary Fan

Evolved Publishing presents a young adult science fiction series featuring first contact intrigue, action, romance, and adventure sure to keep you glued to the page. [DRM-Free]

  • Short Story 1: The Announcement
  • Short Story 2: The Test
  • Short Story 3: The Meeting
  • Book 1: Star City
  • Book 2: Friendship Village (Coming Late 2019)

More Great Young Adult Sci-Fi from Evolved Publishing:

  • The "Whitewashed" Series by Adelaide Thorne
  • The "Noah Zarc" Series by D. Robert Pease
  • The "Dirt and Stars" Series by Kevin Killiany
  • "The Silver Sphere" by Michael Dadich
  • "Two Moons of Sera" by P.K. Tyler

Dec 4, 2017

About the author

Edwin Peng lives in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska with his beloved Pokémon buddy, Eevee. During the day, he indulges in super-villainy by performing high-power laser research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At night, his secret identity is that of a literary superhero fighting to make the Young Adult Science Fiction genre less clichéd and more inclusive. Edwin is the author of the Star City series, which features badass heroines and space aliens who love blueberry pies. The first novel and companion short stories will be released by Evolved Publishing in autumn 2017.

Related to Star City

Titles In This Series (1)

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Star City - Edwin Peng




Star City – Book 1

Copyright © 2017 Edwin Peng

Cover Art & Copyright © 2017 D. Robert Pease


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622535928

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-592-7


Editor: Emily Gerren

Senior Editor: Lane Diamond

Interior Designers: Lane Diamond, with Images by D. Robert Pease


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.


Don’t miss these great prequels to the novels.

Links for the full series are available HERE.

Short Story I: The Announcement

Short Story II: The Test

Short Story III: The Meeting


Book 1: Star City

Book 2: Friendship Village (Coming 2019)

Book 3: Embassy Town (Coming 2020)



We’re excited to offer a Special Sneak Preview at the end of this book: the First 3 Chapters of THE TRACE by Adelaide Thorne, the first book in the thrilling Whitewashed series of young adult sci-fi adventures. Just click on the link below the image to check it out.

Special Sneak Preview: THE TRACE by Adelaide Thorne




The WHITEWASHED Series at Evolved Publishing

For our future doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, diplomats – and starship captains.

Table of Contents

Title Page


Books by Edwin Peng



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22


About the Author

What's Next?

More from Edwin Peng

More from Evolved Publishing

SPECIAL SNEAK PREVIEW: The Trace by Adelaide Thorne

Emma Smith checked her phone for the thousandth time, but still found no calls from the State Department. Their email had said two officials would come to the Smiths’ house at nine; that had been ten whole minutes ago. She paced back and forth across the living room carpet, trying to determine why they were late. Their flight shouldn’t have been delayed on this perfect August morning in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Emma walked to the living room window and twisted the plastic wand to let some sunlight through the blinds, and watched as the Petersons, their neighbors across the street, hitched a boat to their SUV. She wished she could have joined them and their kids for a fun summer day at Branched Oak Lake, but she had more important concerns.

Forty-eight days ago, Emma had clicked the SUBMIT button on the internship’s application website. She had little doubt the State Department had chosen her. Sure, she hadn’t received the official word yet, but why else would they have asked to meet at her family’s house?

Time for plan B!

Her best friend, Tanisha Freedman, had promised to spy for her at Lincoln Airport. During the summer, Tanisha helped her mom at the car rental kiosk. One, two, three excruciating rings later, she answered.


Emms! I was about to text you. My mother just rented a couple of SUVs to a bunch of government guys.


They also asked for directions to your house.

Fuck yeah!

Emma Smith! Watch your language, young lady!

How could Mom have heard me? Isn’t she searching for her necklace upstairs?

Emma swore her mom had bat-like ears, specially tuned to her misbehavior. Or, perhaps the contractor who’d built their home had used cheap Chinese drywall.

Thanks, Nisha! I knew I could count on you.

Mom walked downstairs and stepped into the living room. She had donned the purple pantsuit she always wore to PTA meetings, and the sparkly emerald necklace Dad had given her for their twentieth anniversary.

You found it, Emma said. The necklace matches well with the pantsuit.

Don’t try to change the subject. Stop swearing and be patient!

It’s hard to be patient when my whole life is gonna change today.

Emma, remember what I said about—

—counting my chickens before they hatch. You and Grandma have told me that a thousand times! I’m sure my chicken has already pecked through most of its shell.

Mom chuckled and reached for a book before sitting on the couch. Saturdays during the summer, with no papers to grade and no Huskers football game to prepare for, she could relax.

Dad joined them in the living room a few minutes later. He wore a green tie that his green dress shirt rendered invisible. Honey, does this tie look okay?

I thought I picked the blue one for you, Mom replied.

Yes, but— He stopped and turned when Emma’s phone rang.

The number had a 202 area code. She hurried into the dining room as her parents flirtatiously argued over Dad’s ridiculous color-blind fashion sense. Hello!

Good morning, Ms. Emma Smith, a deep voice said. I’m Dean Hull, from the US Department of State.

Wow! I mean, it’s great to hear from you, Director Hull.

We will arrive at your home in ten minutes.


She had expected the State Department to send a couple of low-level flunkies, not the director himself. She tucked her phone into her back pocket, straightened the collar of her Huskers polo shirt, and returned to the living room to find her parents locking lips like smitten teenagers.

Excuse me!

They broke apart and looked embarrassed.

The State Department’s coming right now! Dad, forget about the stupid tie. You look better without it.

See? My little girl agrees with me. He ripped off the tie.

Emma, it’s only a part-time job, Mom said. I know you’re excited to do cancer research again, but maybe you’re overreacting.

"It’s not any old internship. This is so crucial for my future biomedical engineering career, Emma protested. Do you know how many thousands of UNL freshmen I beat for this chance to work with the Ba’ren?"

The space aliens?

Emma rolled her eyes. Yes. Dr. McCune’s collaborating with a Ba’ren doctor. Remember, I told you about this.

"I thought you were interning with Professor Chen. The Lincoln Journal Star mentioned he was working with the Ba’ren, Dad said. And don’t you roll your eyes at us again!"

Dad, that’s another internship I applied for. Professor Chen’s a mechanical engineer. His work has nothing to do with cancer. Every UNL professor who wants tenure is claiming his or her research is somehow related to the aliens.

Could being around the Ba’ren be dangerous? Mom asked.

I’m sure the government won’t let anyone hurt us.

People around the world were losing their minds over the fact that humans weren’t alone in the universe. Emma, on the other hand, sought to make sweet lemonade from extraterrestrial lemons. She excelled in languages, math, and biology, the subjects specifically requested by the State Department. Furthermore, Emma had spent the last two years pipetting and doing other menial—but crucial—tasks in Dr. James McCune’s osteosarcoma lab.

Even her big brother’s extreme nerdiness had proven useful. Growing up with Liam had turned Emma into a major sci-fi fan. She had watched enough fictional first contact scenarios to know what to do when encountering real aliens.

Sparky, their beagle, loped into the front yard and started barking as two black SUVs pulled up to the curb.

They’re here! Emma shouted.

She and her parents stepped onto the front porch.

One SUV disgorged two men and a woman dressed in dark suits, with earpieces in their right ears and gun holsters on their belts. Three more men in suits emerged from the other vehicle.

Finally, Director Dean Hull stepped onto the hot pavement, exchanged some words with one of his bodyguards, and strutted to their front porch. Emma Smith, I presume?

She nodded and vigorously shook his hand. Director Hull was shorter than she’d expected. Short brown hair surrounded a large bald spot on his head, but he looked sharp in a black three-piece suit.

She gestured to her parents. This is my father, Michael, and my mother, Jennifer.

Great to meet you. I’m Dean Hull. They shook hands, and then the director patted Sparky. I’m sure Ms. Smith has told you all about the BACRP.

Her parents’ blank stares made Emma wish Scotty would teleport her somewhere far away.

Well, then, I can enlighten everyone if you’ll allow me inside your lovely home.

Certainly, Dad replied.

Two dark-suited G-men followed them in.

Dad ushered Director Hull to a seat at their dining room table.

I’m the first Director of the Bureau of Interstellar Relations, Hull said. Her parents still showed no sign of recognition, so he went on. I work for Dr. Clara Emerson, the Under Secretary of State for Extraterrestrial Affairs.

Aha! Now I remember you, Mom said. You were on that NBC Primetime special last week.

Director Hull smiled.

You deal with the aliens? Dad asked.

Yes. I’m afraid Under Secretary Emerson tends to hog all the limelight. Meanwhile, we lower pay grade guys do all the actual work.

Emma winced. She thought Dr. Emerson was doing a great job under such unprecedented circumstances.

First things first. I know Ms. Smith is dying to see this. He handed an official State Department envelope to her.

She ripped it open, her heart pounding, and read the letter.

Congratulations! You are now officially a student ambassador, Director Hull said.

Wait. Student ambassador? Dad said. I thought Emma was only assisting Dr. McCune with his cancer research.

That will only be part of her duties. Director Hull presented a pair of BACRP brochures to Mom and Dad.

Emma leaned back in her chair and sighed. Her parents should have been a lot more excited.

She’ll also help the Ba’ren delegation adjust to our society.

Really? Mom asked.

The aliens sent ambassadors to the major world governments, with gifts to jump-start diplomatic relations. For the United States, they offer a potential cure for childhood osteosarcoma.

Everyone had followed the aliens’ diplomatic delegations to Earth. The Ba’ren had landed in Moscow, Paris, Abuja, and Brasília before finally coming to Washington, D.C. The live coverage of their arrival had been the second-most watched TV event this year, behind the Super Bowl.

The State Department selected the University of Nebraska to implement the first human trials, Director Hull continued. The Lincoln and Omaha campuses will host the Ba’ren Cancer Research Project—BACRP for short.

Aren’t the aliens curing childhood leukemia? Mom asked.

Director Hull smiled. No. Several news networks made a mistake in their coverage. The drug, which they dubbed ‘Compound 8128,’ is only for late-stage childhood osteosarcoma.

The BACRP might be the best thing to happen to our state since Tom Osborne, Dad said.

Why did the government select Nebraska? Mom asked. Why not host the aliens in a big city like Los Angeles or New York?

The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha operates one of our nation’s best pediatric cancer wards, Director Hull replied. Also, Nebraska’s congressional delegation excels at bringing home the bacon.

Dad chuckled. If the president is going to rack up more government debt, he might as well spend the money here curing kids with cancer.

What does all of this have to do with Emma? Mom asked.

The aliens’ BACRP delegation includes two college-aged students, the director explained. We need to complement them with our own pair of students. That’s why the State Department asked for the best University of Nebraska freshmen.

So my daughter will study with the Ba’ren, Mom said.

Emma didn’t like the frown forming on her face.

Come now, Mrs. Smith, the director implored. Surely you don’t think the Ba’ren are evil aliens, like in those silly sci-fi movies?


As far as first contact scenarios go, this was the best we could’ve hoped for. The Ba’ren want to establish peaceful ties and trade with humans, he said. It’s in America’s best interest to build relationships between our respective students and scientists.

If you put it that way, it would be an honor for both of our kids to be serving our country. At last, Mom agreed.

Definitely, Dad added. I know this internship means a lot to her.

With that, Emma knew Director Hull had won her parents’ approval.

To make this formal, Albert Savio is here with the paperwork.

A tall black-haired man joined them at the table. He introduced himself as a State Department lawyer. Mr. Savio opened a thick manila envelope and began stacking page after page of legal documents in front of them. This is the main BACRP contract. Make sure you and your parents read it in its entirety.

I’m eighteen already, Emma protested.

I know, dear, but we should look carefully at this, Dad said.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Smith. You have five business days to approve the BACRP contract, Mr. Savio explained. However, all three of you need to sign this confidentiality agreement immediately. He pulled out three copies of a document covered with fine print.

We’ll announce the student ambassadors at the White House dinner next week, Director Hull said. Meanwhile, we request that none of you reveal her selection.

Emma’s eyes stretched wide. Why? She wanted to tell Tanisha and Olivia Johnson right away, and she had promised Joyce Wang an exclusive interview for the Mizzou school newspaper.

You mean we can’t say anything to anyone? Mom asked. Not even our relatives?

The director nodded. That’s right.

Mr. Savio added, This secrecy is for your daughter’s protection. We do not want our student ambassadors to be swarmed by the press until we’re ready.

Good idea, Dad said. We don’t want reporters camping outside our home. I remember what happened to that unfortunate Des Moines lady.

Emma had to agree. The media were desperate for any Ba’ren-related story. During their brief visits to Earth, the aliens had only met with government leaders, and had rarely appeared in public. Ordinary folks knew so little about them.

A couple of weeks ago, the Des Moines Fox TV affiliate had received a tip that Under Secretary Emerson was operating a secret alien facility at the outskirts of town. They’d made a huge fuss of broadcasting live as their reporters investigated the building. Unfortunately, a farmer with the same name owned the place. This Clara Emerson, armed with a shotgun, charged at the reporters. The retreating film crew crashed their news van into the farmer’s truck and nearly killed her two children. The half-dozen court cases hadn’t been resolved yet, but it looked like the station would be on the hook for millions of dollars.

Once we go public, the director said, a press secretary will help you handle the media. Remember, Ms. Smith, this blackout applies to social media as well.

Emma exhaled deeply. All right.

She and her parents signed the agreement.

Regarding security, we have a pleasant surprise. He waved his left hand, catching the attention of one of his bodyguards.

The woman went out the front door and, a moment later, brought in a familiar face.

Mom leaped up, tipping over her chair as she called out his name.

Is that really him? Dad asked.

Liam wasn’t supposed to return home until his tour of duty was over in three more years. Instead of his Air Force uniform, he wore a dress shirt, tie, and black slacks.

Emma hugged him.

Dad slapped his back. You aren’t wanted for desertion, right?

Don’t worry. I got my honorable discharge due to this sweet new State Department gig. Liam grinned at Emma and sat next to her.

Director Hull stepped back into the fray. Mr. Smith’s unique qualifications make him the State Department’s newest Security Technical Specialist. He’ll help keep all BACRP personnel safe here in Nebraska.

Does that mean you can stay? Mom asked.

Yes, I’ll be home for good.

Emma grinned. She knew her parents were now absolutely convinced that the BACRP was a wonderful idea.

Director Hull extracted another bundle of documents from his briefcase. Meanwhile, Ms. Smith has some homework before the D.C. trip. Make sure you read everything, and follow our instructions. He shook her hand again. I wish you the best of luck. The State Department and our entire nation are counting on you.

Sepporinen slowly paced through Corridor 4. Starcraft 2 was an older fusion-powered vessel with spacious interiors, yet he constantly had to dodge diplomats and their luggage robots. They must have been members of the delegations to Malaysia and the Argentine Republic. He smelled their excitement and joy at finally going to Earth, sentiments he did not share.

Sepporinen accessed the Link with his neural implant. The map of the Diplomacy Sector appeared on his cornea lens, indicating that he must turn left at the next Corridor. A couple of near collisions later, he arrived in front of the office of Prana’i, the newly appointed Assistant Ambassador to Nebraska.

This was the last place in the universe he wished to be, but he had already delayed this meeting for too long—it was unwise to appear lazy to the executives of Earth Mission’s Diplomacy Department.

Gathering every gram of willpower, he placed his left palm over the smooth aluminosilicate scanpad.

Welcome! the door merrily announced. Sepporinen, Earth Mission Citizen 6863, you may enter.

He clenched his left fist and resisted the urge to punch the scanpad. This door only required a simple diode display to verify Sepporinen’s identity. Instead, Prana’i had programmed it with a complex voice output and an advanced emotional algorithm. Typical, that a diplomat would waste time and effort on such unnecessary features.

The interlocking pieces of the door, made from blue-tinted amorphous steel, pulled apart from the center to form a circular opening. The door reassembled itself after he stepped through.

Prana’i sat behind a gigantic table made from an unfamiliar, bitter-smelling wood. The Assistant Ambassador’s brown- and white-spotted skin matched his official portrait on his Link profile, though he unexpectedly kept his hair cut short and dyed light brown.

Sepporinen stepped forward, extended his arms, and intertwined his fingers.

Prana’i nodded, acknowledging this gesture of deference. Sepporinen of Intukoto, we finally meet in person.

He managed a small smile, pleased that this diplomat had at least used the correct naming convention of Sepporinen’s Saamaa culture. I come to accept my appointment.

You smell like you do not want to be here.

Sepporinen strained his facial muscles, trying to maintain his composure. Adult, I am honored to serve.

Prana’i waved his left hand. Save your breath. There is no point in trying to deceive me. As an experienced diplomat—not to mention the father of two children—I smelled your deception many kilometers away.

Sepporinen used his neural implant to check the Assistant Ambassador’s public Link profile. One of the holograms featured Prana’i with another male Adult and two Children, a male and female, all wearing loose-fitting Harapp clothing. He had been silly to think he could fool him. I despise my conscription. I joined Earth Mission to mine asteroids, not to talk with humans.

The Assistant Ambassador stood up and tapped the table with his right palm. Do you know what this piece of human furniture is?

Sepporinen wiggled his left hand, indicating he had no idea. Perhaps this was a test to investigate how much he had learned about the humans. If so, he would fail. He had only attended a few courses offered by the Sociologists on human cultures, and had made it a point not to learn a thing.

"This is a desk. In the humans’ Western culture, it is where one would do deskwork. Desks also serve as status symbols, Prana’i explained. For instance, the Oval Office contains an impressive partners’ desk from which the American president addresses the nation."

Sepporinen did not understand the reason for the diplomat’s babbling.

I fabricated this piece of furniture as soon as we entered into Earth’s orbit, Prana’i continued. It is but one of the many ways I am learning about our hosts’ cultures.

Sepporinen connected to the Link with his neural implant again. A few moments later, he found the latest Diplomacy Department budget. Prana’i had paid a materials engineering guild five hundred thousand Ba’pana to replicate mahogany wood.

How could Ambassador Wathanda let him waste the time of so many engineers?

I am a mining engineer, not a diplomat. My talents are better utilized working for the Eutecsis Guild.

Both the Diplomacy Council and the Section Court disagreed when they denied your petition.

That is not the end of it.

Of course, you retain the right to appeal to the Central Court, but I guarantee you will lose. The diplomat leaned forward, placing both of his palms on the desk. Sepporinen, the Diplomacy Department will not relent. You will be punished with recycling duties if you continue to refuse.

Sepporinen did not understand why the diplomats were so keen to use him, even to the point of applying the full extent of Earth Mission Charter’s Conscription Clause. He had already served twenty days maintaining Starcraft 4’s organic recycling plant after the miningcraft incident with Arnbejoerg. He did not want to repeat that experience.

I am not a doctor or a biologist, Sepporinen said.

Prana’i raised both of his shoulders toward his ears.

A quick check of the Intelligence Department’s database told Sepporinen this was the human body expression called shrugging.

That is a cause for concern if you are treating patients on Dituyuvi. However, every Ba’ren Juvenile knows as much about biology and chemistry as the typical human medical school graduate. The Assistant Ambassador took a couple of short breaths. I am puzzled by your persistent opposition. I thought you, as a Saamaa, would be ecstatic to work for Ambassador Wathanda.

Not if I will be on Earth. Normally, it would have been an honor for Sepporinen to serve his Second Mother, but these were abnormal circumstances.

We dislike many things about dealing with humans. However, it is your duty to adapt and follow orders. The Assistant Ambassador picked up a long titanium collar that had been lying on his desk. All members of our Exploration Mission have to make sacrifices, great and small. For instance, I will not wear this when I return to Earth.

Sepporinen gazed at the large ashok inscribed on the collar, a symbol of auspiciousness for Prana’i’s Harapp culture. It was traditional for every Harapp diplomat to wear something inscribed with the symbol.

"The Sociologists explained that the ashok resembles one of the most well-known signs of evil to humans, Prana’i said. Therefore, the Councilors banned its use for all diplomats."

After another search of the Link, Sepporinen found the relevant Diplomacy Council ruling. Why not simply explain this symbol to humans?

Unfortunately, humans often draw conclusions too quickly, and refuse to change their minds even if they are wrong, Prana’i replied.

Sepporinen felt a sudden emptiness in his head—his Link connection had been severed.

The Assistant Ambassador held up a tiny black blocker. Get accustomed to living without the Link. We all must disconnect once we land on Earth.

The Harapp passed Sepporinen a slate, which he reluctantly accepted.

This is your commission, Prana’i said. Congratulations. You are now an Assistant Aide.

Assistant Aide: the lowest position in the Diplomacy Department.

I understand you just became a full Eutecsis Guild Member, he continued, but being a peacemaker brings greater prestige.

Prana’i did not recognize how important asteroid mining was to Ba’ren exploration missions. Sepporinen would lose the honor of becoming the youngest mining engineer to prospect an undeveloped solar system. That was the primary reason he had competed against—and beaten—thousands of other Juveniles to obtain his place in the Earth Mission.

Do you, Sepporinen of Intukoto, vow to perform your Diplomacy Department duties to the best of your ability, for the benefit of Earth Mission and for all Ba’ren?

Sepporinen retracted his fangs underneath his lips and slowly raised his clenched left hand, pressing his right hand over the slate. I do so vow. The device glowed yellow, recording his affirmation.

Now, this is for you.

Prana’i gave him a thin paper envelope that smelled like zwuy feces.

Your admissions letter is inside. Congratulations again. You are the second Ba’ren student to attend the University of Nebraska.

The second?

Sahanish’s acceptance letter was signed first. Anyway, there are medical procedures you must undergo, as well as.... The Assistant Ambassador prattled on and on about the required preparations for the diplomatic mission to Nebraska.

Sepporinen detested this part of his new assignment the most. He could not be a great representative when forced to interact with thousands of juvenile humans. He left the office before Prana’i finished rambling. There was no escape from his grim fate.

Emma was no stranger to Misty’s Steakhouse in downtown Lincoln. After the hostess showed her family to their table, Emma selected her favorite appetizer: the spinach and artichoke dip.

Liam devoured half a dozen crab cakes while they waited for their entrees.

Her family came here for major celebrations, like Liam’s UNL graduation and her parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary. Now, they were honoring Emma’s achievement.

The spicy, smoky scents followed their server from the kitchen. Emma sliced off a piece of her filet mignon, and it melted into a pool of deliciousness in her mouth. Victory tasted great.

You better enjoy this meal, Liam said. It might be a while before you can eat such tasty meat again.

What— Emma swallowed her bite. —do you mean? Won’t the White House serve steaks or seafood at the fancy welcome dinner?

Liam shook his head. Didn’t you read your State Department info packs? The Ba’ren are vegetarians. There won’t be any meat at BACRP events.

Really? Dad sounded disappointed as he cut into his prime rib. I thought we could invite them to our Labor Day barbecue.

The aliens are vegetarians? They look like they’ve evolved to be carnivores, Emma argued. Ba’ren have eight huge canine teeth, and their skin is striped or spotted, like tigers or leopards.

Her brother shrugged. The Ba’ren evolved on a completely different planet. We can’t expect the same rules that govern Earth life to apply to them. Maybe their sharp teeth were meant to tear through tough veggies.

Emma had only read the first dozen pages of the info pack on Ba’ren culture. She always sought to finish her assignments early, but she’d been too preoccupied with text messages and the Internet for the last three days. Her selection as a student ambassador had leaked barely twenty-four hours after Director Hull’s visit.

Damn... I’ll need to look for places that serve vegetarian cuisine, she said.

The only BACRP assignment she’d completed was compiling a shortlist of local restaurants for the Ba’ren to visit. Perhaps she could take the aliens to Lincoln’s Haymarket District. She recalled the Indian restaurant next to the Ivanna Cone ice cream shop serving vegetarian options.

Liam lifted his bottle of beer. Also, the aliens don’t drink alcohol.

"Now that is something I can agree on with the Ba’ren!" Dad proclaimed.

I second that, Mom said.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking a couple of beers while enjoying a Huskers game, Dad continued. But too many young people overindulge.

Emma tried to stop shaking her legs. Dad’s lectures against the sins of alcohol addiction had grown more uncomfortable after what happened during her trip to Paris. She desperately needed a change of subject, so she tapped Liam’s foot underneath the table.

Fortunately, he took her cue. "Sis, why didn’t you study more on the Ba’ren? You spent all afternoon chatting on your phone."

Everyone I know wanted to talk with me about meeting the aliens, she replied. Good thing Director Hull let us out of that confidentiality agreement. He said that my social media presence is giving the BACRP good publicity.

That’s great! Mom said. I can’t wait to tell the other teachers tomorrow how proud we are.

Emma started to slice another piece of filet. I also did several interviews with Joyce. She said.... A dozen pedestrians outside the steakhouse window caught her attention. What the heck?

One young man pointed a finger at her, and the crowd burst into excited chatter.

Liam frowned. I think you just made some new fans, Emma.

She and her family tried to return to their dinner, but only a few minutes later, a short brunette in an elegant green evening gown scurried to their table.

"Emma Smith, I’m Elizabeth Bly, from the Lincoln Journal Star. Could you answer a few questions about the Ba’ren?"

I’m sorry, miss, but we’re eating right now, Dad replied. Couldn’t you wait?

Yes, but—

Not you again! The tuxedoed manager sprinted to their table and grabbed the reporter by her arm. Out!

There’s no need to do this! the reporter said, trying to shake him off.

This is a private establishment! the manager shouted. You can’t sneak in here after what you wrote about us!

Everyone in the steakhouse stared as he dragged the reporter onto the street.

They warned me this could happen, Liam mumbled. He tapped a quick text message on his phone. Ten minutes, Emma. Be patient for ten more minutes. Then he gestured to catch the waitress’s attention, and took a couple of C-notes from his wallet. "Can you please box up the rest

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